Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: UAF, Defense Department take new approach to suicide prevention

University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers have been selected to develop a suicide-prevention program that will focus on Alaska-based Army soldiers.

The project will focus on the Army 11th Airborne Division in Alaska. The unit, which is split between Fort Wainwright and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, identified 17 deaths by suicide among its ranks in 2021.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski included $3 million to support the project in the federal government’s fiscal year 2022 appropriations act. UAF’s Center for Alaska Native Health Research will lead the effort, working with the U.S. Army Military Research Directorate-West, which conducts applied behavioral health and performance research for the Department of Defense.

The project will build off research done by CANHR during the past two decades to prevent suicide among Alaska Native youths. Those efforts focus on identifying and supporting “protective factors,” such as cultural activities and relationships, as a path to reducing suicide risks.

Researchers will work to understand and emphasize protective factors in a military context. The Department of Defense currently focuses more on identifying risk factors, such as alcohol abuse or marital problems, in its suicide prevention efforts.

“When leaders can provide a sense of purpose to soldiers, it’s a protective factor, it builds resiliency,” said James Morton Jr., an assistant research professor at UAF who is leading the effort. “This is an innovative approach to suicide prevention within the military.

The research project, which launched in September, will continue through 2025.

By:  Staff Report
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner